For some, New Zealand is a once in a lifetime experience, and since they have come all this way, they might as well make the most of it.
For people new to New Zealand climbing, it is the perfect way to get to know the country and its many faces. The mountains, flora and fauna vary quickly in New Zealand, and combining a climb of Aoraki/Mt Cook & Mt Aspiring lets climbers experience the lush temperate rain forest of Aspiring National Park as well as the deep glacier-carved valleys of Mt Cook National Park.
Other people appreciate the chance to get in a major climb of a peak like Mt Aspiring with their guide before tackling Mount Cook. It is a chance for you and your guide to get to know each other and work on systems in a more forgiving environment before moving on to the more objectively dangerous slopes of Mt Cook.
Some people are unsure if their experience is enough for Mt Cook and use Mt Aspiring as a prerequisite. The guide can get a clear view of the client's abilities and give advice on whether Mt Cook is a realistic option. If in the end it is felt that Mt Cook is not a good idea there are many other great climbing objectives to tackle.
Whatever the reason, if you love mountains, this will be a beautiful romance.
Come to our office in Wanaka where you will meet your guide and complete a gear check. After a short drive to the staging area, we load into our helicopter. It is a stunning flight into Bevan Col where you begin the business end of the trip. Your guide will give you the required instruction on glacier travel and ice axe and crampon use. A one hour walk across the Bonar Glacier gets you to Colin Todd Hut which will be the base for your ascent. This amazing hut is perched high on the side of the mountain at 1800m and is owned by the New Zealand Alpine Club. Under agreement with the Alpine Club, Aspiring Guides is allowed to keep equipment at the hut which minimizes the gear you are required to carry. The hut can be busy and in nice weather we often choose to bivi or tent outside. We like to eat well and should you happen to bring a lightweight plastic bottle of your favourite beverage it would not be a problem.
Often clients benefit from an acclimatisation day to get used to their surroundings and to explore the area. There are several smaller summits nearby that can be climbed to give the guide time to familiarise you with the equipment and techniques required. This day also gives you some time up your sleeve should the weather not cooperate.
Summit day usually starts at around 4 am. After a good breakfast and a strong cup of your second favourite beverage, the climbing begins. Guides usually time it so you arrive at the more technical climbing around daybreak. The nerves begin to settle down as you watch the shadow of Mount Aspiring dominate the horizon and stretch out towards the Tasman Sea. The most technical climbing is usually spent gaining the upper ridge of the mountain either by the "ramp " or the NW Ridge. It is a thrilling climb as you begin to rise above the many peaks in the area. The summit ridge takes about 2 hours but it can seem an eternity as your fitness is put to test. The summit of Mt Aspiring is one of the more aesthetically pleasing peaks you will ever climb. It rises to a sharp point from where you can get a staggering view of the South Island mountains. The descent is a mixture of walking, down climbing and abseiling. It is slow work for tired legs but there is an uplifting sense of achievement as you realize that you just might pull off this great accomplishment.
It is a slow start for tired bodies but after a massive breakfast the journey continues. There are two options for getting to the valley floor. Either way, it is 1400m of descent to get down; if your thighs don't feel it yet, they will. The faster/bad weather option is to cross the Bonar Glacier to Bevan Col and descend this improbable rocky gash of a route to the valley floor. It is a pretty wild ride finding your way down steep rock slab, an abseil and some amazingly over-steepened boulder fields. Nine hours gets you to Aspiring Hut. It is only a few hours from there to the trail end but most people decide they have had enough long before they get to hut ... the sight of a soft bunk is too tempting to pass up.
The other option is to make your way from Colin Todd up the Bonar to the summit ridge of Mt French then descend to French Ridge hut. This can be a smooth travel in early summer but as the season wears on, the route gets more and more broken. The route will take you through vast crevasse fields and roped descents through towering blocks of ice. A very nice route but since it rises from Colin Todd it can be a daunting route finding mission in bad weather.
The final walk out to the trail end and the waiting vehicle can seem like a dream since over your shoulder you can catch glimpses of the summit of Aspiring. It can seem beyond belief that you were so recently there. The car and your trip to the nearest shower is 5 hrs from French Ridge Hut or 2 hours from Aspiring Hut.
We usually meet at 8:30 at our office in Wanaka. Here you will meet your guide and do a complete gear check and go over the weather forecast. Any last-minute items of equipment are assembled and loaded into our vehicle for the drive to Mount Cook Airport (2hrs). You can leave any gear or valuables at our office. Mount Cook Airport is a small airstrip within Mount Cook Park located on the eastern side of the mountain. Here we load the helicopter for the 15-minute flight to Plateau Hut (2,200m). The helicopter lands near the hut so we are able to provide excellent food and can cater for individual tastes. Usually, there is time for a walk to the dome next to the hut to a get shake down of your equipment and to begin to settle into this amazing location.
To give the best possible chance of success we need the biggest possible weather window. To ascend Mt Cook you need favourable weather and snow conditions and we find that a six-day option provides a high level of success. Some trips are lucky enough to have long periods of fine weather and to have a choice of summit days while other trips need to take advantage of a narrow period of opportunity. There is the opportunity to climb some of the smaller peaks in the area while you wait for the weather to clear on the higher mountain. The Anzacs (2520) are an excellent day out and a chance to get used to climbing in the magnificent area.
Summit day usually starts with a 1am wakeup call. It can be difficult to eat at that hour but your guide will provide a hot drink and breakfast before you start out. With hard snow conditions, progress is fast across the lower part of the glacier and as the valley narrows into the Linda Glacier you will start to encounter more crevasses to navigate around. Early in the season, this can be straight forward but as the season wears on progress can be slow. Sunrise should see you at the top of the Linda Shelf where you will begin to encounter your first rock on the route. The summit rocks are generally easy climbing but after this, you begin to feel the effects of the altitude and effort. While the summit ice cap is easy climbing with short periods of pitching it can seem like a long way to the summit. The summit of Mount Cook is like no other; here you stand on a small island in the South Pacific at an elevation that puts you higher than anything from Asia to South America.
Aspiring Guides has more experience on Mount Aspiring than any other mountain guiding company in the world. Whichever route you do, Aspiring is a beautiful summit and is the highlight of many people’s climbing career. Mount Aspiring is a classic horned peak often called the "Matterhorn of the South". Its beauty and technical climbing make it one of New Zealand's premier peaks. It is a significant undertaking and not to be underestimated. In the interest of safety and quality, we only guide Mount Aspiring as an ascent with one client and one guide unless as part of a longer instruction course. After climb the walkout from Colin Todd Hut to the road end is a very big, semi-technical descent (1400m) that many people find as challenging as the climb itself.
Rising virtually from sea level, Mount Cook (3754m) is BIG by the standards of any mountain in the world. It is heavily glaciated and there are no easy routes to its summit. Standing out on its summit motivates climbers the world over.
Aoraki/Mount Cook is a serious mountain and not to be underestimated due to its comparatively low altitude. It is regarded as more difficult than Liberty ridge on Rainer and is comparable in length and difficulty to Aguille Verte in Chamonix, France and Mt Huntington in Alaska. Routes on Mt Cook have an element of objective hazard that is impossible to eliminate. We prefer to only guide Mt Cook when conditions are optimal. We end our Mt Cook season when conditions on the glaciers make progress slow and expose climbers to a higher level of risk.
On the Linda Glacier Route the vast majority of climbers choose to fly out, however the walkout is very rewarding particularly early season when the snow cover is good. Later in the season the route is subject to rockfall and not recommended.
Summit day is usually between 14-18 hours. Unless you have some experience with this sort of endurance the sheer length of time you need to exert yourself can be the biggest barrier. Pack weights are usually under 10kg. When snow conditions are firm you spend extended periods front pointing and will need to have very good strength in your calves and legs for this sort of sustained effort. Very good balance and crampon technique are required for the Linda Shelf where the route is very exposed and you and your guide will need to move quickly and confidently.
Also see the Mt Aspiring page for its specific difficulty information.book now
Mt Cook via either the Linda or the Hooker is grade 3 on the Mt Cook Grading System (AD European). The Linda Glacier and the Linda Shelf, in particular, are exposed to icefall and avalanche and while in modern times there has not been a major accident due to this objective hazard, there have been close calls. Parties need to be able to move quickly and securely. There is mixed ice and rock climbing up to 50°.book now
Most of our mountaineering ascents & courses are based from a hut or camp. Most days there is only a need for lunch, snacks, water, camera, jacket & tools. When relocating or walking out, you will need to carry 15-20kg which includes personal gear and some food.
For most mountaineering trips we recommend a 50-60 litre capacity pack with gear loops for ice-axe & crampons. Resist the temptation to fill that space to capacity. Light is right. Your endurance and performance over a long trip can be severely affected if you are carrying "too much stuff". Your guide will be checking the contents of your pack before you leave the office on your trip.
One thing we hear every trip is "the food was great! I never knew it was possible to eat so well on a climbing / skiing / trekking trip".
We put a lot of work into supplying you with wholesome meals with a variety of healthy and tasty ingredients and snacks catering to common preferences.
Where possible, we provide fresh vegetables and real coffee. However, there will always be limitations when cooking in an alpine or wilderness environment. Meals like salads are limited or not possible to provide. Some trips/ courses are not recommended for people with very restrictive or complex dietary requirements. If you do have a restrictive eating regime we ask that you disclose this to us at the time of booking and we may ask you to provide us with an advance copy of what you would typically eat on a wilderness trip.
For highly specialised diets requiring special food purchases - we may ask that you attend our offices on the day before your trip is due to commence. If you are joining a scheduled group that doesn't have food requirements, we may ask you to shop and pay for some of your preferred dietary requirements. You will also be required to carry this food and your guide may ask you to assist in the preparation of any separate meals required for you individually.
Alistair, Australia, Mt Aspiring Ascent